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Sunday , December 17 2017

Region comeback after natural disaster

Kaikoura accommodation providers are celebrating the opening of their new Kaikoura Marina – a year to the day when a massive earthquake rocked their town.

Kaikoura tourism operators are celebrating the opening of their new Kaikoura Marina – a year to the day when a massive earthquake rocked their town.

For wildlife tourism specialists Whale Watch Kaikoura and Encounter Kaikoura, the multi-million dollar marina provides improved facilities and a return to their pre-earthquake summer operating schedules – a real cause to celebrate after 12 months of striving to keep their businesses alive.

Tourism is the biggest employer in town and the community came together twice at the marina, once at dawn for a full Māori blessing followed by the official opening at midday.

The moving dawn service took the form of a blessing led by the local Māori iwi (tribe) Ngāti Kuri marking the symbolic reconnection of Kaikōura to the ocean. It is 40 years this year since members of the tribe launched the whale watching tours that put Kaikoura on the international tourism map and helped reverse the economic decline of the small community. However, operations have been limited since last year’s earthquake raised parts of the sea bed 2-metres above sea level making the wharf too shallow to operate at low tide.

For Whale Watch Kaikoura general manager Kauahi Ngapora the opening is “an amazing milestone” for tourism in the area, bringing more visitors to accommodation providers.

The marina opening comes just a month before the anticipated reopening of the main north – south highway linking Kaikoura with Marlborough to the north and the ferries between New Zealand’s North and South islands. One of New Zealand’s most scenic ocean drives, the SH1 coastal route was blocked by a series of landslides during the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, and has been closed since then for major reconstruction. Remedial works will be on going but the road is scheduled to reopen for daytime traffic from 15 December.

The earthquake has also given Kaikoura some new natural visitor attractions including an extra kilometre of rocky seashore at the tip on the Kaikoura Peninsula, a new surf break in town, spherical ‘dinosaur’ boulders that emerged from the sea bed and curious Hope Springs where bubbles escaping from undersea fissures break through the ocean’s surface.

At the same time, tour operators say that the marine wildlife is as active as ever. Along with the resident population of young male sperm whales living just offshore, there have been recent sightings of transient sperm whales on their southern migration along with the usual populations of Dusky and Hector’s dolphins, NZ fur seals, albatross and other sea birds.

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